This Post Was Updated With New Information 3/7/2019

This will come as good news to elites and bad news to everyone else as Alaska Airlines very first refurbished A320 is now flying. The plane is from the now defunct airline Virgin America which formally ceased operations almost a year ago on April 25, 2018. Alaska has plans to refurbish all 73 Airbus aircraft with the new product by the end of 2019

The Virgin America Difference

While Virgin America was doomed as an airline, it was a beloved by those that flew often. Inside the planes you would find live TV, on-demand food ordering, purple mood lighting, and at the time, industry leading leather first-class recliners.

New Life Under Alaska Airlines

When Alaska Airlines took over Virgin America they promised to make changes to bring the Virgin America planes in line with the rest of the Alaska brand. Many people hoped that meant that Alaska would adopt parts of the Virgin America brand, instead they decided to strip away everything that made Virgin America what it was and go more towards the Alaska brand. The Virgin America planes were 12 years old and were due for a refurbishment as the in flight entertainment was far from up to date and the leather seats were starting to show age.

With the refurbishment, Alaska Airlines is taking the rare step of only increasing seat count by one instead of adding many as is the industry trend. This is probably because they can get away with only 3 cabin crew at 150 seats vs 4 with any more. Regadless, the ride will get significantly more uncomfortable across the board. The old planes were set up with the following configuration:

Old A320 First Class Premium Class Economy Total
# of Seats 8 12 129 149
Pitch 55″ 38″ 32″
Width 21″ 19″ 19″

The newly refurbished A320’s will be set up with the following configuration:

New A320 First Class Premium Class Economy Total
# of Seats 12 24 114 150
Pitch 40″ 35″ 31″-32″
Width 21″ 17″ 17″

What does the new cabin look like?

The first noticeable thing is that the mood lighting is now blue and in-flight entertainment screens have been replaced by tablet holders, across all cabins. Economy seats have lost pitch, but Alaska claims that it shouldn’t noticeable as the new slimline seats provide more legroom at knee level but less comfort. The seat width takes a real hit going from 19″ to 17″.

A representative from Alaska Airlines claims “the overall seat width of the post-retrofit seat assembly (3 seats) is 1.49” narrower, or ~0.5” narrower per seat”. It doesnt make much sense to me but it is possible that the reported 19″ seats that Virgin America used may have been overstated.

How can you tell what plane you will be on?

Alaska Airlines is making it pretty simple to tell what configuration you will be on. The easiest way to tell is to look how many first class seats your plane has. If it has 8 seats, you will be on an old Virgin America plane, if it has 12 seats then you will be in the new configuration. Alaska Airlines is also coding the old configuration listed as “Airbus Series” and the refit as “Airbus A320”.

This very first refurbished plane is registered N628VA. There are a handful of other planes in the shop for refurbishment including Airbus A320’s (N623VA, N625VA, N630VA, N635VA, N639VA) and Airbus A321 (N928VA). Expect more to roll out quickly with all 73 to be completed by end of this year.

The first plane N628VA has been flying mostly shorter routes (1-3hrs) but has made an appearance on some transcontinental routes as well.

Why is this good news for elites?

These planes are going from having 20 premium and first class seats to 36 premium and first class seats. That is a 80% increase in premium seats. That should lead to more free upgrades. Currently Alaska Mileage Plan MVP, Gold and Gold 75K members are eligible for complimentary upgrades into Premium Class at the time of booking, or up to 24 hours in advance of travel, depending on status and the fare purchased.

What do you make of the Alaska Airlines new seats?